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Three Ways to Create a Stronger Email Program

A nonprofit marketing manager friend was recently lamenting to me that her email program wasn’t bringing in the same revenue that it used to, and she didn’t know quite what to blame. She was seeing good results from her other fundraising efforts, so why was email disappointing her?

I asked her what she was doing to give her subscribers a personal experience. Turns out, she was getting the basics right: personalizing with peoples’ names, drafting unique messages for donors vs. non-donors, and sending mobile-friendly emails. She’d even done some A/B testing on subject lines.

All of these things are great and necessary, but it turned out that she didn’t have a strategy to cut through the overwhelming amount of email that shows up in inboxes these days. With no plan for how to engage her email list, no wonder she was seeing diminished returns. Regardless of who you consult – and we usually check out the Blackbaud Benchmark Report and the M+R Benchmarks to start – successful email marketing that delivers results now requires cultivation. Here’s what that means:

  1. List hygiene. The process of removing bounces, removing unengaged subscribers, and ensuring you’re sending to real email addresses is becoming more and more critical for email programs since these unresponsive addresses can affect whether your organization’s emails are showing up in people’s inboxes, junk mail, or Gmail promotions tab. It may sound like a low bar, but you have to show up in an inbox before you can see whether your messages are enticing people to take an action. By the way, if you’re worried about removing disengaged subscribers completely, then may we suggest a reengagement campaign?
  2. Segmentation. Most nonprofit marketing tools these days have robust reporting and personalization capabilities. If you’re not using them, then you’re missing valuable opportunities to put relevant, timely messages in front of your subscribers. Of course, segmentation can mean a lot of things. It can mean opening your newsletter with an impact story for donors and a new program announcement for non-donors. It can mean mentioning a subscriber’s elected official in a call to action message. It can mean asking monthly donors to sign a petition and one-time donors to become monthly donors. The bottom line is that your marketing platform is collecting tons of data and you should be using it tailor your email messages.
  3. Quality over quantity. If you’re worried that segmentation means more work in an already packed day, then I’ve got good news for you. Blackbaud’s research showed better results when their clients sent fewer email messages. How many emails did you send to your supporters last year? Is that number above or below average compared to industry-wide benchmarks?* If it’s above, what would it look like to spend more time crafting tailored messages for different segments rather than sending lots of general email messages?

Email marketers are undoubtedly facing competition for subscriber eyes and time. And it’s going to require doing things a little differently going forward. We suggest taking a closer look at your email list and your data and use these tips to cultivate a different kind of relationship with your supporters.

* The truth is that it’s best to benchmark against yourself for most things. But when talking about volume, you’re competing for attention and interest against other nonprofits, plus retailers, banks, political campaigns, and so on. Seeing how you stack up to your peers can help you get a sense of if you’re doing too much or too little and adjust from there.

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